Kicking Off Our #Geniuscon Project with Peter Reynolds

IMG_1849A few months ago, Matthew Winner and Sherry Gick, superhero librarians, put out a call for schools to join them in a project called #Geniuscon.

In the words of Matthew and Sherry:

“Kids are genius. They don’t perceive limits or boundaries in the ways that hinder most adults. Their solutions to life’s problems can seem convoluted, indirect, and unnecessary, but often the ideas of kids can be the most profound.”

#Geniuscon gives kids the freedom to explore one question:  If you could change one thing about your school, what would you do?

Mrs. Ramseyer’s 2nd grade classroom has teamed up with me in the library to explore this question.  Mrs. Ramseyer and I sat down and mapped out some times, topics, and standards on the media center calendar.  We wanted time for:  brainstorming, question development, research, product development, and sharing.  Our timeline spans from now until May.  We devoted most of our time to research and product development.

I also met with Gretchen Thomas, who teaches at the University of Georgia.  She has several of her students who are interested in partnering with us throughout this project.  Their main role will be to facilitate students during the research process to help them think of all of the possibilities of where to find the answers to their burning questions.  They aren’t there to give answers but rather to build bridges over barriers that students might face.


Today was our official kickoff.  To start, we watched this video:

The kids immediately began yelling “Why don’t you just walk up the stairs?”  It was hilarious.  The whole point of watching the video was to bring up the idea that we often hold the solutions to our problems if we take the time to look inside ourselves rather than immediately yelling for help.  We spent some time talking about the word “genius” and how we all have genius ideas within us.

Next, we read Rose’s Garden by Peter H. Reynolds.  In this story, Rose travels the world collecting seeds.  She finally decides to stop and explore a city where she discovers a patch of land in need of color.  This is where she decides to start making her mark on the world by planting her seeds.  Without giving too much away, her efforts inspire a community with her genius idea.

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I loved how this book fit into our discussion of what it means to be genius.  It moved us straight into our #Geniuscon question.  Mrs. Ramseyer and I had already talked about how we didn’t want to influence how the kids answered the question, but we did want to give them an opportunity to brainstorm before they chose their focus topic.  We put the question on 2 big pieces of paper and split the class in half.  Each student had a marker to participate in a Chalk Talk, a silent conversation.  All students began writing their responses to the questions as well as asked one another questions about their ideas.  All of this was done in writing.  Mrs. Ramseyer, Mrs. Vaughn (EIP teacher), and I all added to the conversation too.

After about 10 minutes, students mingled between the two chalk talks to cross pollinate their ideas.


We moved our 2 chalk talks to the floor and all stood around them.  As we looked at or responses, I asked students to look for ideas that stood out to them or topics that seemed to be coming up.  We identified ideas such as:

  • Additions to our school:  adding more playground equipment, building a garden, expanding our school
  • Changes to rules:  additional books on the max checkout in the library, additional “be’s” to our 5 be’s,
  • Technology:  taking home iPads and netbooks, being able to bring technology from home, using our 3D printer
  • Behavior:  addressing the bullying in our school, being kind
  • And more!

The pages were so filled with ideas that we couldn’t really talk about them all.  After this discussion, we sat down for a big surprise:  a Skype with Peter H. Reynolds!  Peter was in Florida doing some work, and he took time out of his busy day to join us.  After saying a quick hello, students took turns stepping up to the webcam and saying what they wanted to change about our school.  Peter validated each student’s idea and even expanded upon the idea with his own thoughts.  He encouraged students to think about how they could illustrate each of their ideas and turn it into a book, which the students are very interested in doing now.  We will probably make this an additional piece to our project:  possibly even an extension into the art room!

We closed out our time with Peter Reynolds with a friendly goodbye and the encouraging words of “connecting the dots” and “making our mark on the world”.  We can’t think him enough for taking time to visit with us.  He is such an advocate for allowing students to show off their genius and let their creative energy flow.

In class, students will begin to finalize their topics and next week they will return to the library to develop questions to prompt their research.  What an exciting start!

If you want to learn more about #Geniuscon, I encourage you to attend the TL Cafe Webinar on Monday February 3 at 8PM EST.  


All Aboard for Picture Book Month

Picture book month is coming to a close, but big celebrations, surprises, and planning are happening in the Barrow Media Center.  Just today, I have been brainstorming with teachers about upcoming units and almost every grade level is preparing to begin persuasive writing.  We are thinking of sponsoring a writing contest in the media center where students write persuasive essays on the importance of picture books, but I’m still playing around with this idea and what I might actually make the “topic” of the contest be.

Also, today, I was surprised to find an envelope in my box with a donation from a group of community members in honor of someone’s birthday.  I was able to order several new picture books (and chapter books) to add to our collection.

Finally, a big surprise arrived at our school today:  an autographed copy of The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.  Mrs. Lori Frumkin used to be a teacher at our school and is now working with the Chicago Public Library.  She heard Chris Van Allsburg talking about is books to several groups, and she remembered how special Polar Express Day is at Barrow and got a copy of the book autographed for our school.  Thank you so much, Mrs. Frumkin!

We are planning our Polar Express Day for December 15th and decorating has begun.  We’re also planning a Polar Express Alumni Night.  Later this week, Mrs. Rockholt and I will be preparing hundreds of certificates for students who participated in picture book month.  What an exciting time!